Given His Chance, Irvine’s Jimmy Raye Makes the Big Plays

Times Staff Writer

They strike quicker than a free safety and are more responsible for keeping young people out of organized football than bad knees.

Concerned parents have killed countless football careers before they had a chance to get started.

Worried about their children’s physical (“You’re likely to break your neck”) and mental (“Football won’t get you a job, algebra will”) health, they tell their kids no out of love.

Jimmy Raye III’s parents love him.

They told him so every year before they told him he could not play football.

He had asked, year after year, to play as a youngster, but the stock answer was repeated. And the answer always came from his father, Jimmy. It was difficult for the son to understand because his father had been the quarterback of outstanding Michigan State teams in the mid-1960s, a defensive back with the Rams and the Atlanta Falcons and is the offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.


“He really didn’t say too much about it,” Jimmy said. “Just, ‘I don’t want you playing.’ That was it.”

Raye accepted his father wishes, but he would ask again every year.

Finally, as an eighth grader in Roswell, Ga., his father gave in.

Raye, in just his fourth year of organized football (he didn’t play his sophomore season because of eligibility considerations), has made up for the lost time. The starting quarterback for Irvine High School this season, he scored two touchdowns as the Vaqueros beat Newport Harbor, 36-26, last week.

Just two seasons ago, the Sailors had beaten the Vaqueros, 52-0. Last season it was 20-6, Newport Harbor.

Raye ran 31 yards for one score and returned an interception 82 yards for another.

According to Irvine Coach Terry Henigan, Raye is also the Vaqueros’ best defensive back.

“He made a great return, made a great cut when he was trapped on the sidelines,” Henigan said. “He ran like a man possessed. I think he was running out of fear. A couple plays before the interception, when we had the ball, he got hit so hard I didn’t think he’d get up. I don’t think he wanted to get hit again.”

For anyone who’s just seen him on the sidelines, barely filling out his uniform, it would appear that one good hit would snap Raye in half. The main knock against Raye, perhaps the reason his father said no for so many years, is his size.

“I’m 5-9,” Raye says with a note of finality in his voice. He’s read a number of different reports about his height. One said he was 5-5. Another called him the, “small-framed quarterback.”

Raye is not that short. What makes him appear small is the fact he is so skinny. Going into Thursday night’s game against Tustin, Raye estimated his weight anywhere from 135 pounds to a bulky 140.

And this is after an intensive summer weight-training program. Perhaps dad had a good reason after all.

Tustin Coach Marijon Ancich could care less about Raye’s height or weight. “You can’t play (defense) him because he doesn’t follow quarterback standards,” Ancich said. “He rolls and he runs. If you go after him, he’ll run under you and get up field. He’s an elusive guy and plays everywhere. You got to stay with him at all times.”

Quickness is the key to the winged-T offense Henigan uses at Irvine. He first saw the winged-T, a run-oriented offense that relies on misdirection and timing, while watching a University of Delaware football game on TV in the mid-70s.

“It’s an exciting offense with a lot of options,” Henigan said. “Jimmy is perfect to run it. He’s so quick, such a good athlete. I think we ask him to do more in our offense than a guy who justs drops back in the pocket and throws.”

About Raye’s throwing. Well, he can. It’s just a matter of gauging success.

Against Newport Harbor, he completed 4 of 8 passes for 41 yards. But in the winged-T, passing merely complements the run. The Vaqueros compiled 340 yards in rushing against Newport Harbor. Irvine’s go-ahead touchdown was scored on a misdirection play when Raye handed off to Gary Renteria, who quickly handed off to Bill Brosnan, who ran for 49 yards to score.

“It’s not essential that he pass in our offense,” Henigan said. “But I know he has a good arm. He did great during our passing league games over the summer. If we need him to throw, I’m pretty confident he’ll be able to come through for us.”

Said Raye: “I’m not a great passer. I don’t see myself playing quarterback in college.”

It really doesn’t matter what position Raye plays. The very fact that he’s playing, that he overcame his short comings is an accomplishment.

“I think I’ve proved I can take a hit,” he said. “I’m not afraid to go head-up with people. Coaches are always worried that I’m going to get hurt. They tell me to slide. But I never do. I know the team needs me to make big plays when I can. I have to try each time to make them.”

Raye’s father, the first to tell him to stay down, was supposed to see him play against Newport Harbor. But those plans were changed when the elder Raye, out jogging, was hit by a car. The injury wasn’t serious, but he was in no condition to make the trip from Tampa to Irvine.

“It’s a little tough with my dad gone,” Raye said, “but I think he’d be pretty proud of what I’ve done.”